A month ago, Bob Crow was reviled as a pina-colada-sipping hypocrite. But even Boris will miss him now he’s gone

Living under the dominion of beige technocrats, we crave colour in public figures


It is an act of gross impertinence to second-guess a newly deceased stranger’s thoughts on the reaction to his death. But my hunch is that Bob Crow would find this sanctification by his enemies a touch distasteful.

A month ago, as he baked his torso to an appealing langoustine pink on Copacabana beach, the combative RMT leader was a thug, a dinosaur, a one-man extortion racketeer, and a rancid hypocrite who, not content with betraying his six-figure income by refusing to vacate his council house, brazenly sipped pina coladas on the eve of a Tube strike.

By the simple expedient of a dodgy ticker, Bob Crow is reborn as a noble and principled warrior… a man with whom one need not have agreed, but who was uniformly respected for his brash sincerity and commitment to defending the interests of the members, who was paid a salary that somehow seems less inflated now than it did in February.

This is exactly as it should be. Mr Crow was no hypocrite himself, but the most minimal dictates of good manners demand that even Boris Johnson, who avoided and patronised him with such icy patrician disdain, should honour him now as the very salt of the earth. There is plenty about which Boris should be teased, but not this. As anyone who heard the football commentator Alan Green dump on Brian Clough’s memory the day he died can attest, it takes a special brand of narcissistic imbecile to confuse self-aggrandising nastiness with courageous bluntness. And Boris is no imbecile.

While he is right to observe the niceties, others among us will genuinely regret the departure of a trade-union juggernaut the like of whom we will not see again. Both the greatest achievement and the singular sadness of Bob Crow’s remarkable career is that he was such a startling anachronism. When the idea that a working-class hero is something to be had become fossilised within the amber of a John Lennon lyric, when mainstream thinking regarded the notion that those in non-graduate trades should also be well paid as comically time-warped, he stood almost alone in defence of civilised values long since swept from vogue by the brutal post-Thatcher consensus.

He achieved unique success in his field by being entirely himself. Like John Prescott – though he lacked the suppleness of mind that persuaded his lordship to don the ermine – he often and dramatically mangled his words without ever being misunderstood. A barely reconstructed Marxist, he lived by the old Marxian tenet that nothing was too good for his workers. He would not meekly be chastised by those with padded parliamentary pensions – though in his final interview he fraternally supported the MPs’ pay rise – that £52,000 is a preposterous wage for a Tube train driver. He was unabashedly rooted in an era when it was accepted that working people should earn enough to live in dignity and comfort. Single-handedly, he preserved the RMT as an enclave of that other country that is the past.

What the Tory front bench and the London mayoralty have done to protect one archaic faith (that Eton and Oxbridge should rule the waves), he strove mightily to do for another. Which of the two is the worthier of reverence, I leave to you to judge.

If Mr Crow would find the reappraisal of his merits not to his Millwallian tastes, he would be hugely touched by the outpouring of fondness, on Twitter and elsewhere, from those whose admiration for him had previously been drowned out by the hysterical screechings of his foes. Living under the dominion of beige technocrats, as we have these past 15 years, we crave vibrant colour in public figures. Just as Boris and Nigel Farage (who clumsily adduced Mr Crow to the anti-EU cause while his body was still warm) have benefited from this sharpened appetite, so did he.

There was a simple, inescapable authenticity about him which Mr Farage shares and Boris superbly simulates. An archetype without being a caricature, Mr Crow had no self-editing cerebral software. He spoke his mind and called a scab a scab, and though more sensitive to the vicious attacks on his integrity than the default bulldog snarl suggested, he soaked them up with splendid resilience.

His death will make no difference. The shock will fade, and when the lip service falls silent there will be no grand renaissance for the concept that the interests of working people should be aggressively defended. Zero-hours contracts will not be swept away by a tide of posthumous Crowophilia. But he made a difference, and only for the better, to the lives of his members – and whatever he would make of his insta-beatification by the likes of Boris, Crow could not have asked for a finer epitaph than that.

Read more: He was from a time when union leaders used their industrial muscle
This trade union leader was different, rare and largely misunderstood
In praise of Bob Crow, Britain's trade union pantomime villain

A whole new variety of Freudian slip

The pressure-cooker theory of comedy contends that laughter is the valve that releases tension before it erupts into psychotic rage. David Freud, the Tory welfare minister in the Lords, continues to test the theory to destruction.

Since lack of space precludes a mirthful reprisal of his investment-banking and political careers, we merely doff the jester’s cap at his confession of last week to being utterly bemused by the rise of the food bank.

“It is very hard to know,” he said, “why people go to them.”

A few years ago, after needing only three weeks to move from total ignorance about welfare to authorship of a New Labour white paper on how to reform it, Freud reflected: “In a funny way, the solution was obvious.” Hilarious.

And now, with reform enacted, he has not a clue why more and more people cannot afford to eat.

Laugh at him if you can, even if it is mocking the afflicted, because the alternative is succumbing to a fantasy involving the arse-end of the Iain Duncan Smith panto horse, rendition by Gulfstream to Damascus, his lordly gonads and a pair of electrodes. And which of us wants to do that?

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